REVIEW: Ink Flamingos

Note: This review originally appeared in the The Season E-Zine's June mystery section.

Ink Flamingos by Karen E. Olson
Obsidian, June 2011

Rating: 9 (Excellent) (The Season's rating scale runs from 1 to 10)

For fans of: Victoria Laurie

Brett Kavanaugh owns The Painted Lady – a high-end, custom-art tattoo shop located in Las Vegas’ swanky Venetian Hotel. Thanks in part to her high-profile address, she’s done tattoos for some big names, the most famous being pop-icon and Flamingos-lead-singer Dee Carmichael. Brett’s the only person Dee trusts to do her tattoos, and as a result, she’s become a fairly frequent customer, coming in for fresh art every time she passes through town.

Brett’s association with Dee has always been good for business – that is, until the singer turns up dead in a shady hotel room, her body surrounded by inks and needles, and a fresh tattoo on her body. And to make matters worse, witnesses report seeing someone who looks an awful lot like Brett leaving the scene of the crime. Brett has an alibi and quickly takes herself off the LVPD’s suspect list, but that doesn’t stop an anonymous blogger from launching an internet smear campaign against her, claiming it was a botched tattoo done by Brett that killed Dee. Pictures of Brett taken by an unseen stalker start popping up all over the internet, and it seems someone has been going around town impersonating her. Can Brett catch the killer and silence the blogger in time to save her business, her reputation – and her life?

Ink Flamingos is the fourth in Karen E. Olson’s Tattoo Shop Mystery series. It’s the first I’ve read of Olson’s books, but it certainly won’t be the last. Simply put, Ink Flamingos is a fabulous read, full of twists, turns, tattooed corpses, and more red herrings than you can shake a needle at.

I love that the conceit of the series is something off the beaten path, something with a little edge to it. There are dozens of mysteries about knitters and bakers and scrapbook-makers, but a tattoo artist with a shop in Vegas? Bad-ass. I’m also incredibly impressed that the mystery is not only intriguing and wonderfully complex, but actually tattoo-related, as well – it’s not just a murder mystery in which a tattoo artist happens to become involved. Too often these days, the central mystery and the series conceit are almost incidental to one another, making you wonder if the author is simply picking plot-points from a hat.

Olson does a marvelous job of giving the book a dark, ominous, menacing vibe. The stakes are high – not only are her career and her reputation in jeopardy, but her life is threatened, as well. You really get the impression that Brett is in real and constant danger, and that helps to create a tension that pushes the pace of the book. And the fact that Brett’s identity has been stolen only serves to heighten the sense of unease, giving you the feeling that, try as she might, Brett’s not in control of what’s happening and is instead being forced to play victim to the whims of a vindictive psychopath.

Brett makes a great heroine – smart, likeable, headstrong, and fearless – and her chemistry with friend-slash-rival-slash-budding-love-interest Jeff Coleman is so hot it practically sizzles. The cast is rounded out by an ensemble of quirky and entertaining characters, most of whom I wish were a little more fully fleshed, but who are still far from cardboard cutouts, and all of whom add color and dimension to the plot.

Looking for a fun roller-coaster ride of a summer mystery? Check out Karen E. Olson’s Ink Flamingos. Come for the fabulous cover, stay for the thrilling conclusion.